Credit or Debit Cards for Hire Cars in the USA

Do I need a credit card to hire a car in the USA? This is a question that we get asked very often and the short answer is yes, you do. In this article we will examine the general facts associated with the use of credit cards and why debit cards are not so useful when using a pre-paid rental voucher to hire your car. 

credit card

Do I need a credit card to hire a car in the USA?

Why do I need a credit card anyway?

When you collect your car from the rental desk with your pre-paid rental voucher you will be asked for  your credit card.  This is for the rental company’s security.  This card will be used to charge you for any local costs and incidentals that you incur such as car seats, upgrades, one-way fees and e-tolls.  This card will also be used to charge you if you are late returning the car (there is usually a 29 minute grace period beyond your booked return time but after that you will be charged), so the final charges for the rental may not be known until the car is returned or even a few days after in the case of e-tolls.  Rental companies prefer to use credit cards because that way they are guaranteed to get all of the costs that have been incurred.  Traditionally debit cards only had access to funds available in the bank, so debit cards were not acceptable for this purpose. Likewise, pre-paid currency cards only have access to the funds loaded on the card, so although they may be backed by the VISA or MasterCard logos they are not accepted for this purpose either.

What about VISA and MasterCard debit cards?

Debit cards that are backed by the VISA or MasterCard logo work slightly differently, and some rental companies may accept these cards for the security deposit.

*ALAMO/NATIONAL DEBIT CARD POLICY: Debit cards are considered to be any non-credit card bearing the VISA or MasterCard logo. Any other non-credit card without one of these logos is not accepted. Please review the following guidelines: When renting in the US, a credit card in the name of the renter must be presented at the time of rental; otherwise, Debit cards are accepted along with proof of a confirmed round trip travel ticket (airline, cruise ship or train). Without proof of round-trip ticket, debit cards will not be accepted for the security deposit. For one-way rentals this does not apply and a credit card must be presented. $100 USD will be blocked per rental week when using a debit card for the security deposit.

I don’t have a credit card but someone travelling with me does – will that be ok?

The lead driver is required to hold a credit card in their name, issued by their country of residence, just like their driving licence and passport. It is all part of proving that you are who you say you are, and that you are a minimal risk to the rental company.  The lead driver does not have to be the main driver, or in fact do any driving at all, but they do need a valid driving licence – so if there is another person in whose name the rental could be made that fulfils all of the lead driver qualifications, you could book the car in their name instead and then the drivers without credit cards can be additional drivers.

How much is the security deposit going to be?

The security hold is done by ring fencing a certain amount of funds with your card company rather than making an actual charge to your card. The hold reduces your available balance by the relevant amount, but because it is a hold, there are no currency fees attached unless the rental actually incurs a charge such as those mentioned above.  The hold is removed at the end of the rental and your available balance will return to normal within a day or two. The amount of the hold can vary very widely by company, by the category of car taken, and the duration of your rental but we provide the following list as a rough guide:

  • Alamo and National – no hold, just a check that it is a valid card
  • Dollar, Thrifty & Hertz – $350 USD
  • Europcar – $550 USD
  • Sixt $2,500 USD
  • Fox – $300 USD

Do I have to use the same card that I used to book the car?

No, you can use a debit, credit or American Express card to pay for your pre-paid rental voucher at TripWheels – and the card does not need to be in the name of the lead driver when booking. So anyone in the party or even not in the party can book and pay for the car. It is only when collecting the car that the card in the name of the lead driver is required.

In conclusion, to have your best chance of a smooth and quick experience at the rental desk, we recommend that if you do not currently have a credit card, you obtain one with a limit that will easily cover the security deposit as outlined above.  If you have any questions about credit cards or are travelling in a short space of time with no time to obtain one, then please do get in touch to explore what options may be available to you.